MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The number of deer hunting licenses sold in Wisconsin has dropped over the last two decades, raising concerns about funding for the state's conservation efforts, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
Data from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources show that the state sold about 824,500 deer licenses in 2017, about 50,400 fewer than 1999, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
Wisconsin Policy Forum research director Jason Stein said the state relies on funds from license sales to support conservation work.
"Not just for animals that are hunted, but for other animals as well, including endangered species," he said.
Keith Warnke, who leads recruitment for the state DNR, said the decline in the number of hunters is strongly tied to the aging of the baby boomer generation.
The number of men in the state who hunt could drop to 400,000 or fewer by 2030, according to a 2011 study by the Applied Population Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. However, the number of female hunters has grown to almost 63,500, a 32 percent increase since 2000.
"We have both something that can be a conservation crisis, but also something that can be a great conservation opportunity if we're able to reach out to a number of new people in an up-and-coming generation and get them engaged in hunting and fishing," Warnke said.
Conservation groups say improving recruitment is just part of the solution. Groups are seeking an increase in license fees and conservation stamps that would generate about $1.7 million, said Wisconsin Conservation Congress Chairman Larry Bonde.
"It's very targeted," said Bonde. "Every fee increase goes with something that these groups say is very concerning and they would like those dollars spent on those specific items."
Bonde said the state could also seek other revenue options, such as sales tax or creating license fees for kayaks and canoes.